Skip to main content

tv   Book TV  CSPAN  August 5, 2012 7:00pm-7:45pm EDT

7:00 pm
beautiful day. but we will be focusing on the rather -- some sort of dark periods in chicago's history.ola history that has been marked --e a city that has been marked by violence and violence that has sort of a merged from the conflict within the city and reflective of its divisions and we will see the reverberationse throughout history into today. .. the subtitle of the books do a lot of work. the first book is gary krist's to my right. but not really. not really right.
7:01 pm
it is "city of scoundrels," 12 days that gave birth to modern chicago focusing on a small-time period where a lot happened. then we have to my left and maybe my left, i don't know. is pretty hard for me. joe allen's "people wasn't made to burn," true story of race, murder and justice in chicago. this story is set in 1947 on the west side of chicago, he murdered the slumlord he believed responsible for the fire that killed children. most of you know i haven't read these books or familiar with the ideas in them and the events so i thought we would start
7:02 pm
chronologically. gary can set it up and talk about the amazing 12 days. >> to put it in a net show, "city of scoundrels" is the story of how chicago in 1919 went from a state of relatively high optimism about the future to the brink of martial law several months later culminating in this 12 they crisis at the end of july that was one of the worst things sins the fire 1871. they year started with optimism. the great war in europe was over so all chicago soldiers would be coming back soon. the spanish influencers was
7:03 pm
finally tapering off. optimistic for the plan of chicago. architect daniel burnham's reconstructive scheme that would rebuild chicago topped the bottom and turn it into the paris of the ferry and the basic idea was if you create an urban environment that is pleasant and order we the people in that environment will become more pleasant and orderly and that is not the way it happened in chicago in 1919. the postwar situation proved to be more challenging than anyone imagined, all those soldiers coming back from the war combined with african-american workers who had come north during the war to fill the labor shortage. this was the beginning of the great migration of african-americans from the south, converging on the city at a time when industry was gearing back from high wartime
7:04 pm
production. so the economy was really cooling off. this created an enormous amount of competition for jobs, social-service and housing and all these tensions built up over the years until the 12 day period at the end of july when chicago was hit with this bizarre series of mishaps that served as the match that set the conflagration. it started out with what is now regarded as the first major aviation disaster in american history. thome bling ft express which was the goodyear blimp making exhibition flights over the city. it mysteriously caught fire, plummeted to the ground and crashed through the skylight of the illinois trust and savings bank across from the board of trade building. exploded and ended up killing 13 people and sending a wave of
7:05 pm
hysteria through this city. next-door neighbor lord child into his apartment and strangled her and buried her in the basement. this santa another wave of hysteria about whether friends and neighbors can be trusted. the real mayhem started after that when an incident at a south side beach spiralled into what became one of the worst race riots in american history. for days on end black and white citizens were killing each other releasing tension that builds up over the year and that a major transit strike was called so all trains and streetcars were stopped putting people on the streets at the height of the violence. total chaos was raining in the streets of chicago and the
7:06 pm
person in charge of the city at the time was the mayor, william thompson, ak a big bill. big bill is really god's give to any narrative historian. he was this extravagantly colorful, extravagantly corrupt guy in a big cowboy hat and he regarded himself as the people's david protecting the common chicagoan against the goliaths of wealth and property and he was a big fan of the chicago plan because it reflected opportunity for kickbacks and patronage and things like that so the style himself as a big builder. unfortunately at the time of the crisis he was involved in a very personal battle with his arch enemy, the governor of illinois, that happens sometimes. the governor and the mayor don't get along. they were both republicans and
7:07 pm
former friends. loudon got elected from the thompson political machine but once he got into office decided he was above machine politics and wasn't going to play that game anymore so thompson regarded him as a trader. these two guys people were calling on to send in the militia of, do something to secure order but neither wants to do anything. thompson didn't want to be seen, a governor which you see to get the militia called in. the chicago police have things under control. and he doesn't want to make the unilateral decision that proved to be controversial and can do nothing gives you a written request for the militia. the city falling apart all around these guys, and going on,
7:08 pm
things got so bad he had to swallow with pride the request, the melissa was supplied on the streets of chicago and within 48 hours they had things under control. and in chicago lasted for many years. >> fascinating book. >> a funny way of despite the great grandiose plans, more profiteers accelerating changes that opened the one society and producing consequences they never thought of. interviews with 20th-century america and 20th-century
7:09 pm
chicago, and world war i and world war ii shaped the modern united states, and focusing the story of one family, the family of james hickman, an important story in and of itself but it really tells the story of what happened to hold generation of african-americans who left the deep south and the go north. the dignity and freedom was impossible to get and the mississippi of that era and when i say mississippi you have to think of the worst of the old south and the old confederacy where african-american life, was cheap and murdered by any white person and not be prosecuted and history of lynching, and like
7:10 pm
many african americans, the unequal economic and political power between the handful of plantation owners who ran the state and the lives of sharecroppers black and white were incredibly miserable with no future. like many african american families particularly in mississippi there came to be a point where after they had a large family with nine kids, farming families whether it is ireland or iowa or mississippi, farming families didn't have a lot of kids and they got to the point where the family realized for the four youngest children there was no future in mississippi and because of the draw of industry in the north was so strong, for african-americans to migrate to the great industrial centers of the north and west the west is sometimes forgotten in that way but certainly chicago had this kind of glamour for
7:11 pm
african-americans, of storage of mecca where you could live a life that had its own difficulties but was immeasurably better in other ways. this just wasn't simply a question of jobs but dignity and freedom and culture that one of the things about the death of american newspapers this in our lifetimes, the death of the african-american press. the importance of newspapers like the chicago defender was forgotten and meant all of our lives are culturally and politically for put out a call for people to african-americans to leave the south like many black newspapers in the north. there's no future. come here. we can do that. like many african american families they came during the end of world war ii. it is true for anybody who has to migrate for work whether they
7:12 pm
migrate 500 miles or 5,000 miles, you are encouraged to come. you are welcome in many cases. part of that is the boss knows you will work hard. you want a future and you want your kids to have a future. nina may be welcome for your labor but not welcome in many other ways. what they found particularly when it came to housing, this is a story that is true today for latino immigrants and african-americans is when your neighbor's welcome your struggle to find a decent place to live is the source of real anger and humiliation and frustration. richard wright wrote about this far better than i ever could. the native son, half of the book is about housing and dignity and kitchen housing. kind of a keyboard for basically 1-room hovel. you think of kitchen, we have a
7:13 pm
young couple and -- these 1-room hovel that didn't have kitchens or running water and no ventilation and the housing shortages got worse as more african-americans came to chicago because he essentially african americans were confined to a fairly small part and parcel of the south side of the city. we have both grown up in cities where black and white tino neighborhoods are large sections of the city. large parts of the city. a fairly small part of the city. it was perfectly legal to discriminate. homeownership, renting apartments to these things called restrictive racial covenants. that wasn't outlawed until 1948 by the supreme court. the small area of the south side and small parts of the west side
7:14 pm
man you kept stuffing more and more people into a smaller ary and landlords kept cutting them into smaller apartments and charging people more and more rent for these things. the hickman family found is the frustrating thing. james hickman found a job that wisconsin's seal for the older generation and the room was one of the major steelworks makers in the country. massive plan on the south side chicago that is now gone. he struggled for a year to try to find these for a large family. when he finally found its ended up being at the hands of a man named david coleman who was african-american. wasn't as rare to have african-american landlords but they were a distinct minority in side of the african-american neighborhoods. he promised an apartment. what they got was this one room hubble on the fourth floor in
7:15 pm
the attic that they can find six people to. it was a common practice among landlords both white and black because of the enormous migration of blacks to the north and the small number of available apartments to cut these apartments up into smaller and smaller ones like i was saying and they would do this when people go to work. they go to work can come home and find out you were kicked out of your apartment or your apartment was cut in half and made worse by the return of black war veterans who couldn't find housing. when you try to move outside black neighborhoods, you face this incredible racist mob violence. this is one of the most shameful parts of chicago history because particularly for black veterans who fight from the pacific or italy and all they wanted was a small apartment in these new housing states that were built
7:16 pm
after the war. they would find mobs of 3,000 or 5,000 people waiting to physically assault and attack them. inside the ghetto dilapidated housing was so bad it was literally burning down around people. so the hickman family like tens of thousands of african-american families found themselves in this impossible situation if you try to move outside the black neighborhood you face racist violence and if he remained inside the ghetto you are confined to firetraps and dilapidated housing. so he took reluctantly this apartment offered to him by david coleman for the promise to get a better one in the future. but then there was another side of him that came out, he realized he could make more money by cutting up all these apartments into smaller ones and started threatening people. if you don't move out i will bring you out. in the building which is close to where i live at 1733 west
7:17 pm
washburn he threatened all of the tendons that if you don't move out i will bring you out. eventually one night when james hickman went to work he worked the night shift at if you ever worked the night of the diversion of that mandate is a miserable job he went to work hand within three hours of going to work there was a fire and his four youngest children burned to death. when they were found after the fire was put out underneath one of the beds, two bad senate tiny little room they found the eldest boy who was 14 trying to cover the bodies of his three youngest siblings. i think 5 is the firefighter who found that probably would have been my last day on the job. to make a long story short if i could get into this people can ask questions, despite the fact the coroner when coroners held
7:18 pm
public hearings -- really is a fantasy. i don't see what else to call it. held public hearings into the death of the hickman children which not only talked about the horrible conditions they lived in but one time after another repeated all the threats david coleman made and the coroner ruled they couldn't pinpoint the exact cause of the fire, they strongly encourage the state attorney's office at chicago police to investigate what happened and they promptly didn't do that. six months later as james hickman fell into increasing despair and grief -- you can imagine. i can only imagine. i can't tell you from experience what this did to him. somebody threatens you burn out ride bring you out and happens and the people of victimized are your four youngest children who
7:19 pm
you have the highest hopes for. he confronted david coleman in an act of what you could either call rage or despair or justice or all three who shot and mortally wounded him and coleman died three days later. the surprising part of the story for most people is instead of james hickman disappearing into the a little criminal justice system and spend decades in prison, he could have been executed in the electric chair. campaign are rose among some of the leading figures in the labour movement and civil-rights movement in chicago many of whom disappeared from public memory organized a campaign that won his freedom. it is an extraordinary story and a lot of people ask me how is it we never heard of this? that is a question i try to address about why do we know some history and don't know other parts of history that are
7:20 pm
very important for us. if there are any questions i will be happy to answer them. >> these are remarkable books, i want to talk a little about how you got your stories. there are court records, freedom of information act requests, coroner's inquests, various documents, five different newspapers including the defender. was it three days 0 weeks or what? i just wonder how you got that evidence and how you reconcile very different accounts you read which is the ultimate -- historians have to grapple with.
7:21 pm
>> there were six major dailies in my ear and several black weeklies so there was a lot of evidence to go through and as a narrative historian, we know that in order to bring it to life you have got to have specifics. archive people's memoirs and diaries to get what was actually said and done to bring the story to life but in terms--the newspapers -- in my hero of 1919 newspapers were largely instruments of the ruling class. they were generally conservative. the tribune was certainly conservative. robert mccormick was in charge at the time. the chicago daily news, the head of that was victor lawson.
7:22 pm
less extreme but still representative of wealth and property in that perspective. there two hearst newspapers that a little bit more populist but the daily press represented the spectrum of conservative wealth and property. you would have to go to black newspapers and anything else, documents, community documents of organization. i spent a lot of time going through the university of chicago archives, it is not that extensive. i went through the loudon papers. you have to do some triangulation because every prospective you are getting particularly from the press is slanted in a certain way. so for instance one of my
7:23 pm
contention is something some critics have taken me to task for is i have a more sympathetic view of big bill thompson and his machine than what i consider the cartoony thing that has grown up in history. the people with the printing presses right history and thompson left not a paper behind. there's nothing you can find. victor lawson has this big archive and mccormick has this big archive. one side gets to write the history and thompson -- i hope we get into this later, he was a dishonest machine politician but there are some ways in which that was better for the average chicagoan than the high-minded reformers. >> it is interesting. >> i found out about this story which is the way i started the research for it by a man named
7:24 pm
frank freed whose claim to fame was he brought the beatles to chicago and frank who spent most of his adult working life as a concert promoter here and in chicago and later at madison square garden i met him at a mutual birthday party for a mutual friend and he said i want to talk to you. he sounds like a gangster so we went and sat outside and he said i got something for you to write about. best thing i ever did and nobody knows about it. okay, frank. all of us have a story like that. he told me a little bit about it. i was really intrigued but also a bit baffled because i never heard even a piece of this story. is he recounting it right? i was a little not sure what he was telling me. i said where do i start? he says go read the martin
7:25 pm
article in harper's and go from there. i did know who martin was. harbor's leaders kind of snooty liberal elitey magazine. what does that have to do with a crime story? that opened up a whole way of looking at things i never thought about. john merlo martin was one of the most premiere magazine writers in the 1940s and 50s. he later went on and became a speech writer for adlai stevenson and in a funny way became an ambassador to the dominican republic. that is when he became respectable. when he was not so respectable he exploited issues of class and political corruption and crime and justice in chicago and he wrote for harper's magazine. he wrote a beautiful piece about the hickman case which intrigues me even more because you think something like this, one of the big magazines then as it is now
7:26 pm
and he had a huge reputation. why didn't people take it up from there and write something more about it. i will cut his autobiography and from little snippets in his story i realize i ended up finding out a lot about the case from a source i did not expect at all which was the cook county coroner's office because at the time the coroner's office was charged with investigating what they would call suspicious death. that could be anything from a car crash to a plane crash to probable murders and they would hold public hearings and take sworn testimony from everybody involved. i am sure it was filled with the usual patronage and corruption that we always have to deal with in chicago but it also meant there is a historical record about cases which are not investigated by the police department for the cook county state attorney's office. if you wants to find something
7:27 pm
about a case there may be no record whatsoever from chicago police or the cook county state attorney's office but there will be extensive testimony at the coroner's office hearings so that was the big eye opener for me. the other area was it was largely outside the mainstream press that i found out about the case because the five major dailies at the time particularly in chicago but it is true of all the major cities, there was a real jim crow aspect in news coverage. if you wanted to know what was going on in black chicago you had to read the chicago defender unless there was a real salacious sex for crime story they would sell newspapers for a day or two but they never follow it up. through the defender i really got a sense what was going on with fires and housing and organizing and one of the major
7:28 pm
organizations that helped in hickman's defense was a small radical group called the socialist workers party who put out the militants and between the militant coverage of the hickman story and the struggle against violence in chicago and the chicago defender you got a way of telling a picture of what was hapning in 1947 chicago. >> a couple questions. as you ponder your own you can start getting. [inaudible] >> my understanding -- [inaudible] >> to the microphone please.
7:29 pm
>> you are getting there. >> that is all right. you can -- [talking over each other] >> william hale thompson was a clown but in "city of scoundrels" you close an extemporaneous speech he gave that if bobby kennedy had said it we would be complimenting him on his eloquence. do you think african-american black voting for thompson had anything to do with riling up white gained against blacks in 1919? >> definitely. there was an election in 1919 in which thompson was up for reelection. people like the newspaper publishers thought he is not going to be reelected. he is a clown. he is a corrupt person but of course he won largely because of african-american votes, german
7:30 pm
votes and irish votes. the headline was chicago blacks reelect there may. it did create a lot of tension in the city between whites and blacks because he was perceived rightly or wrongly as a true friend of the black community. he was to western extent. he talked a better game than he delivered by allege progressive people were not registering good records on racial issues where as this corrupt machine politician was regarded -- a lot of politicians in the so-called black belt, sins like ththings
7:31 pm
called him the second -- second lincoln. he was regarded as a hero. there was justification for that because no one was giving black voters representation in city government. he could become quite eloquent. he called the people in the black belt his brothers and they said the same thing back at him. there wasn't an emotional attachment with african-american community. >> the question emergeds. corruption. why do so many people vote for corrupt politicians? and the thing to tolerate it. why do they keep getting elected? we will tolerate corruption if we are treated well? parking meters -- whenever?
7:32 pm
>> do you want to go first? >> my book begins with the end of the kelly hero which was considered -- i don't know how you measure these things. we are the third most corrupt state in the union. i don't know how you measure these things unless it is by prosecutions for who gets convicted but edward kelley was made of the city during the new deal and the second world war. the person behind him was jacob are the who ran the machine. kelly's administration coincided with the new deal in the war years. that did mean there was social reform combined with corruption and to the corruption seemed to
7:33 pm
get in a way of social reform but it is important to remember part of an end of callie's career and emergence of kelly --canelli was because kelly was willing to tolerate a tiny measure of integration into housing public project presided over by elizabeth woods of the chicago housing authority. we are not talking any great shakes in integration but tiny numbers of black veterans who were allowed to move into public housing. that became the backlash the machine cut his head off and sent him into the wilderness. that is part of the dynamic too. >> in my era before the new deal, there was no extensive infrastructure of social services like housing offices
7:34 pm
and unemployment insurance. these were not in existence. if you were an average chicagoan and you ran into trouble lost your job or your landlord was going to evict you there was no place to go to find help except the local machine representative, the precinct captain and you would say i lost my job or are will get kicked out of my apartment and he would say i will take care of it. find a job to tide you over until you find something better or talk to your landlord and convince him it wasn't such a good idea to kick these people out and all he would ask in exchange is the vote of you and everyone in your household, every conceivable election coming the. district quid pro quo. all the government reformers would wring their hands and say this -- people are corrupt but for a fact of the matter is the machine was providing a social service function that wasn't
7:35 pm
being met elsewhere and if you are an average chicago worker you have machine politicians that are corrupt and they are skimming off the top but they will give you a job and on the other hand high-minded progressive reformers talk a good game but their interests coincide with capitalists who raise your gas price or streetcar fares a huge vote for the machine politician and that is how those guys got elected time and again to the astonishment of government reformers who said how can these corrupt people keep getting elected? >> lead in. >> i want to add a few comments that the coroner's juries are enormous source of interest. i think that they often serve as a way for the politicians of the state attorney's to take the
7:36 pm
political temperature and figure out whether a case had a lot of public support so my understanding mostly from an informal history is what they did -- they pull people out to serve on the jury but take up testimony and evidence and write it down and newspapers would report on it sometimes the cause was interesting enough to report on it and the legal purpose was to develop the evidence to see if there was sufficient evidence to take the case to the grand jury. that also allow the state attorney a kind of buffer politically in terms of how cases were treated and that is very interesting. i also want to add a comment which i am sure you are aware of which is the importance of the railroad in this because you could get on a train in mississippi or alabama and knocked get off. people didn't have cars and if
7:37 pm
you were african-american driving to the south you were going to have a lot of trouble. you could get on the train and not get off until you got to chicago and that was huge. the books are a great source of interest. >> thanks. great. >> question for mr. allen about the landlord that was shot had been white, how do you think that would have impacted sympathy towards mr. hickman? >> want to take a few more questions? >> want to answer that? >> i don't know. this is the story as it unfolded. obviously it would have had some impact. this was a very racist city. you also have to say from the way that the police prosecuted the case remember that the
7:38 pm
coroner's jury recommended strongly that the police and the state attorney investigate the death of his children and they didn't lift a finger or do anything. one of the surviving sons from a fire four kids died but one of the oldest kids is still alive and lives on the west side of chicago. they promptly did nothing. on the other hand when james hickman shot and mortally wounded and killed david coleman the police acted very quickly and had him in cuffs that night and interrogated him and arrested him within a matter of two weeks had an indictment for murder and under the laws at the time would have been perfectly legal to execute him. from all of the survivors who witnessed the court proceedings the cook county state attorney's office vigorously prosecuted the case against him. you have an all white jury there were a couple things about the
7:39 pm
jury. one is they chose a woman to be the foreman which at the time was pretty rare. i tried to figure out why and see if anyone was still alive but it was impossible. it was a dead end. i couldn't get beyond a certain point. what was interesting about the way the jury ruled was it ruled 7-5 for acquittal. one of the members of the jury who later spoke to some of the campaign activists said if i was hickman i would have done the same thing. that is interesting. what is also interesting about the way the jury ruled is an insight into other things was a gender split, five of the women on the jury voted for conviction and the jury foreman, it woman, voted against it. does that tell you something about how people perceive just
7:40 pm
this? you can see the men in the room looked act as my children are debt, they got no justice, i have to do something and did the women on the jury look at the same thing and just say all there is is a widow with two kids with no means of support? that is the of their side of the question too. that was a bit roundabout but those are the issues that come up with the question of the case. >> wasn't clear to me why the bill was sold frow german in world war i. simply because there were some many germans in the city? >> if he was a political joe
7:41 pm
allen later this said this is the sixth largest german city in the world which is true in terms of numbers of germans in chicago at the time. he and his political mentor known as the poorest we'd made a calculation that saidswede made a calculation that said if we play to germans we can win the election. of thecalculation that said if y to germans we can win the election. of the calculation on his part. he took a lot of guff for being a pacifist. he would never describe himself as pro german but the war is a useless waste of american blood on foreign battlefields which sounds reasonable to me. but in time of war people see things in black and white.
7:42 pm
if you are not a patriot you are a traitor. he was branded a traitor because he was opposed to american entry into the war. so he was pilloried left and right for being pro german but he would never describe himself as pro german. a lot of germans afterwards and we know he is a crook but we voted for him because he made our lives liveable during the war because there was a lot of anti german sentiment in chicago during the war. they changed what i call -- change it to something like liberty cabbage pool of hours because they were so anti german. >> how do you think the war played out? >> most still referred to world war ii as the good work.
7:43 pm
he puts it in quotes, in a sense to say ironically that a war that kills sixty million people, how can that be good? it is never an attempt to diminish the nazis or the fascists but the victors in the war promised many things. most african-americans -- a significant number refuse to participate in the war most notably people like malcolm x and many others refuse to be drafted. most african-americans went into the war with the idea of an idea of a double victory as it was promoted by the pittsburgh curry or we see fascism abroad and jim crow at home and most of the time that meant the feeding fascism abroad but not defeating jim crow at home but a whole generation of african-americans were condemned to-transformed by the war because they came north
7:44 pm
and join the union movement and thought of themselves as having -- black veterans building upon the experience, bitter experience of the first world war came back with more resolve that lives would change for the better despite many obstacles put in place. part of the hickman story is coming back and coping with that clash of expectations, and a significant number of whites who issue racism had to be dealt with. that took a long movement to build. world war ii is the turning point. >> thanks for helping us get this


disc Borrow a DVD of this show
info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on